The Justice Department issued guidance on Wednesday informing states of their legal obligations when conducting post-election audits and making changes to voting laws.
The department issued two new election guidance documents, reminding voters and states of their rights and responsibilities in the midst of the Arizona GOP’s push to audit the 2020 election results in its largest county and Republican-led states’ efforts to pass more restrictive voting laws.
“This document sets down a marker that says the Justice Department is concerned about this and we will be following this closely,” a department official told CNN.
The first document sought to ensure that states properly retain and preserve election records in accordance with civil rights law and that audit procedures do not intimidate voters.
It made it clear that states must keep ballots and other election materials free of damage or destruction for 22 months after a federal election.
It also addressed a now-cancelled plan by contractors conducting the Arizona audit to contact voters in person or by phone to collect information about their ballots.
“This type of activity raises concerns about potential voter intimidation,” the guidance stated.
In May, the Justice Department sent a warning letter to Arizona’s Republican state Senate leader about the practice and in Wednesday’s guidance the department said it “will act” if states conduct post-election audits in a way that has the purpose or effect “of dissuading qualified citizens from participating in the electoral process.”
A second guidance said the Justice Department does not consider states re-adopting prior voting laws after implementing new laws to accommodate voters due to the COVID-19 pandemic “presumptively lawful” but the department will instead review changes for compliance with federal election laws.
The Justice Department sued Georgia in June, claiming that the state’s new election measures denied Black voters access, and the department said Wednesday that states will not be granted “safe harbour” from department action if reverting to prior election laws has a discriminatory effect.
“You should not assume if you abandon the practices that have made it easier for people to vote, that abandonment is not going to get scrutiny from the Department of Justice,” a Justice Department official said.